• Federal charges filed against airport shooting suspect; some victims' names released

    By: DAVID FISCHER, Associated Press

    Updated:

    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Iraq war veteran accused of killing five travelers and wounding six others at a busy international airport in Florida appears to have traveled there specifically to carry out the attack, authorities said Saturday.

    While investigators determine what led to the attack, officials released the names of some of the victims. Olga Woltering, a grandmother from Marietta, Georgia, was getting ready for a cruise. Terry Andres, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was on vacation with his wife to celebrate his 63rd birthday. The names of the three other victims who were killed were not released as of Saturday evening.

    Authorities said during a news conference that they had interviewed roughly 175 people, including a lengthy interrogation with the cooperative suspect, 26-year-old Esteban Santiago, a former National Guard soldier from Alaska. Flights had resumed at the Fort Lauderdale airport after the bloodshed, though the terminal where the shooting happened remained closed.

    FBI Agent George Piro said Santiago spoke to investigators for several hours after he opened fire with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that he appears to have legally checked on a flight from Alaska.

    "Indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific attack," Piro said. "We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. We're pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack."

    RAW VIDEO: Multiple people killed in shooting at Ft. Lauderdale Airport

    PHOTOS: Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

    On Saturday, federal prosecutors filed charges against Santiago that could bring the death penalty if he is convicted.
     
    A criminal complaint filed Saturday by the Miami U.S. attorney's office accuses Santiago of an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death. The punishment is execution or any prison sentence up to life. Prosecutors also charged Santiago with two firearms offenses.
     
    Santiago, who is in federal custody, is expected to appear in court Monday, Piro said. 
     
    Santiago told investigators that he planned the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the Fort Lauderdale airport, a federal complaint said. Authorities don't know why he chose his target and have not ruled out terrorism.

    Investigators are combing through social media and other information to determine Santiago's motive, and it's too early to say whether terrorism played a role, Piro said. In November, Santiago had walked into an FBI field office in Alaska saying the U.S. government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State group videos, a law enforcement official said.

    Santiago had not been placed on the U.S. no-fly list and appears to have acted alone, Piro said.

    The attack sent panicked witnesses running out of the terminal and spilling onto the tarmac, baggage in hand. Others hid in bathroom stalls or crouched behind cars or anything else they could find as police and paramedics rushed in Friday to help the wounded and establish whether there were any other gunmen.



    Bruce Hugon, who had flown in from Indianapolis for a vacation, was at the baggage carousel when he heard four or five pops and saw everyone drop to the ground. He said a woman next to him tried to get up and was shot in the head.

    "The guy must have been standing over me at one point. I could smell the gunpowder," he said. "I thought I was about to feel a piercing pain or nothing at all because I would have been dead."

    Santiago had been discharged from the National Guard last year after being demoted for unsatisfactory performance. His brother, Bryan Santiago, said Saturday that his brother had requested psychological help but received little assistance. Esteban Santiago said in August that he was hearing voices, Bryan Santiago said in Spanish on Saturday as he stood outside his family's home. He said he told his brother then to seek help.

    "How is it possible that the federal government knows, they hospitalize him for only four days, and then give him his weapon back?" Bryan Santiago said.

    His mother declined to comment as she stood inside the screen door, wiping tears from her eyes. The only thing she said was that Esteban Santiago had been tremendously affected by seeing a bomb explode next to two of his friends when he was around 18 years old while serving in Iraq.

    When Santiago spoke of mind control at the FBI office in November, agents questioned the agitated and disjointed man before calling police, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Santiago was then taken for a mental health evaluation.

    Piro, who is in charge of the Miami field office, said Santiago clearly indicated at the time that he was not intent on hurting anyone.

    Witnesses, including former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, starting to share information on social media shortly after the first shots were fired. Fleischer tweeted that he was at the airport when shots were fired.

    Duquesne University's women's swimming team was among those at the airport at the time of the shooting. Duquesne Athletics confirmed in a tweet that all team members were accounted for and safe.
    Gov. Rick Scott headed to the airport shortly after the shooting for a briefing with law-enforcement officials. Among the investigating agencies are the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Broward deputies and officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    In a statement, Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. "Jack" Seiler said the city is providing help and resources to the airport but directed any further inquiries to Broward County officials.

    "Our community extends its thoughts, prayers and support to the victims and their families," Seiler said.

    Broward County has established a toll-free number for passengers and family. People can call 866-435-9355 for information. 

    It is legal for airline passengers to travel with guns and ammunition as long as the firearms are put in a checked bag -- not a carry-on -- and are unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container. Guns must be declared to the airline at check-in.

    Santiago arrived in Fort Lauderdale after taking off from Anchorage aboard a Delta flight Thursday night, checking only one piece of luggage - his gun, said Jesse Davis, police chief at the Anchorage airport.

    At Fort Lauderdale, "after he claimed his bag, he went into the bathroom and loaded the gun and started shooting. We don't know why," said Chip LaMarca, a Broward County commissioner who was briefed by investigators.

    The gunman was taken into custody after throwing his empty weapon down and lying spread-eagle on the ground, one witness said.

    "People started kind of screaming and trying to get out of any door they could or hide under the chairs," the witness, Mark Lea, told MSNBC. "He just kind of continued coming in, just randomly shooting at people, no rhyme or reason to it."

    The bloodshed is likely to raise questions of whether aviation safety officials need to change the rules.

    The attack exposed another weak point in airport security: While travelers have to take off their shoes, put their carry-on luggage through X-ray machines and pass through metal detectors and full-body scanners to reach the gates, many sections of airports are more lightly secured and more vulnerable to attack.

    In 2013, a gunman with a grudge against the Transportation Security Administration shot and killed one of the agency's screeners and wounded three others during a rampage at Los Angeles International Airport.

    Last November, an airline worker was shot and killed near an employee parking lot at Oklahoma City's airport, and in 2015 a machete-wielding man was shot to death after he attacked federal security officers at the New Orleans airport.

    "While we have authorized doubling the number of TSA canine teams to try to prevent tragedies like this, the fact is that wherever there are crowds, such as at our airports, we remain vulnerable to these types of attacks," Nelson said.

    The Fort Lauderdale gunman said nothing as he "went up and down the carousels of the baggage claim, shooting through luggage to get at people that were hiding," Lea said. The killer went through about three magazines before running out of ammunition, Lea said.

    "He threw the gun down and laid spread-eagle on the ground until the officer came up to him," Lea said.

    The gunman was arrested unharmed, with no shots fired by law enforcement officers, and was being questioned by the FBI, Sheriff Scott Israel said.

    Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said 30 to 40 people were injured -- scrapes, bruises and broken bones -- after the shooting.

    President Barack Obama was briefed by his Homeland Security adviser, the White House said. President-elect Donald Trump said that it is a "disgraceful situation that's happening in our country and throughout the world" and that it was too soon to say whether it was a terrorist attack.

    Santiago's brother, Bryan, told The Associated Press that his brother had been receiving psychological treatment in Alaska. He said Santiago's girlfriend alerted the family to the situation in recent months.

    Bryan Santiago said that he didn't know what his brother was being treated for and that they never talked about it over the telephone.

    He said Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2. He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion, Maj. Paul Dahlen, a Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman said. Santiago later joined the Alaska National Guard.

    The Pentagon said Santiago had gone AWOL several times during his stint with the Alaska National Guard and was demoted from specialist to private first class and given a general discharge, which is lower than an honorable discharge.

    At the Fort Lauderdale airport, inbound flights were diverted and those waiting to take off were held on the ground, as police and paramedics rushed in. At least one person appeared to be lying in a pool of blood with a head wound.

    John Schilcher told Fox News he came up to the baggage claim and heard the first gunshot as he picked up his bag off a carousel.

    "The person next to me fell to the ground and then I started hearing other pops. And as this happened, other people started falling and you could hear it and smell it, and people on either side of me were going down and I just dropped to the ground," said Schilcher, who was there with his wife and mother-in-law. "The firing just went on and on."

    "I was down on the floor. When we finally looked up there was a policeman standing over me," he said. "That's when I assumed it was safe."

     

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